Hierarchy dilemma


New member
So, my BF and I share a hobby. Actually he's had this hobby for a long time and introduced me to it, and I am still in the NRE stage with this hobby where I try to learn stuff, acquire skills and read a lot about it.
I joined an online forum about it. After browsing for a while I noticed BF's avatar. I did not know he was on this forum, we had never talked about it. I clicked on some of his posts, thinking that since he knows so much more about this, I could learn something.

But I soon noticed that it wasn't just technical stuff about this hobby, but more personal stuff he was writing about as well (a bit like when someone who blogs over here about poly, also mentions kids / pets or what they had for lunch). He mentioned being poly and having 2 girlfriends, and he referred to us as GF#1 and GF#2 (me being the #2). This did not bother me because chronologically, she was there first.

Honestly I should have stopped reading at this point. But I didn't, and then I read a post where he referred to Lin (other gf) as his "primary", and that.... bothered me a lot.

He has never mentioned any hierarchy in his 2 relationships. (She and I are both married)
He is always super careful when he talks to me about her, or when he talks to me about how talks to others about the 2 of us (he loves telling poly stories to his co workers for instance and will tell me what he said and what the response was etc) to treat her and me as equals. He has said things like 'i don't like it when i spend more money on one of you than the other' or 'i want to spend equal amounts of time with both of you'. He has never cancelled on me to be with her. These are his words, and to some extent, actions. However, there have been little things over the past months that have made me feel that indeed she has more 'rights' or is more important... meeting his family, for instance, travelling with him etc. He has SAID there is no reason I can't do these things, but they don't happen, and seeing the word 'primary' on the computer screen, referring to her, kind of made sense.

I stopped reading after that. It's been a couple of days and it has been on my mind. I want to talk to him about it but I am not sure how. I feel like I somehow invaded his privacy, even though this was on a public forum and I wasn't actively snooping (but should have stopped reading). To be clear, it's not that I want to be 'just as important' as she is. Well I kind of want that. But what I want more is for him to be honest about it.... if he were to tell me yes I consider her my primary, and that means this and this and this, but you are very important to me as well, and that means this and this and this...I would accept that. I am very happy with my relationship with him, I feel our love is still growing, we are very close and enjoying each other a lot... but I feel confused about this. And I don't know if I should talk to him or not, and if I talk to him, how to do it. Ugh.
I would try to work it out in your own mind first, before approaching him. Do you want to be a primary? What would that mean to you? What would need to change?
And the definition of "primary" is hardly concrete. You might be on the verge of talking past each other.

My first thought, though, is it kinda sounds like your bf is a blabbermouth. :D I'm proudly poly, but I have never bragged of my studliness to my co-workers. Some of them have known about my life, & I'll happily answer most questions. Informing you post hoc kinda says he risks YOUR privacy & expects you to approve.

If he's gonna brag online, he could easily give each of you pseudonyms & stop the numerical crap.

The niggly "fairness" also strikes me as odd.

Anne & I accidentally wound up on the same BDSM forum. She spotted me first. We thought it was hilarious, & went on as individuals who happened to be married to someone. I don't remember ever changing our personae because of this.

(Months in, someone raised hell for us "hiding" the fact, & he was quickly ridiculed because dozens of the regulars knew us IRL. Ironically, the primary moderator later got in trouble for "protecting" his new gf by deleting emails & posts addressed to her by other members, like me.)
Bluebird, I would like to be more involved in his life... meet his family etc.

But basically what I now feel is that if he were to tell me that he considers Lin his primary and that it isn't likely that he will do those things with me.. that would hurt, yes. But it hurts more that it seems that his words and actions don't match. So I do think I need to talk to him about this.
Ravenscroft, I do not consider him a 'blabbermouth bragging about his studliness'.

His first year of being poly, he wasn't out. I love that now he is proud of his life. When someone asks if he has a girlfriend he says 'yes, I have 2!' and shows a picture of me and Lin together. That is perfectly fine with me. I like to show him off too.

I agree that we could have a different definition of 'primary'. Another reason to talk to him, I guess. But I am still at a loss how to bring it up.
You've just got to do it! Next time you are together, tell him something has been bothering you. You could hand him your phone or laptop or whatever, and let him read your post here.

Or you could paste the post into an email and have him read it, then ask him if he got it, and read it, and go from there.

Polyamory is based on open honest communication. It should become a habit. Share the good stuff, share the bad stuff.

This all might be a misunderstanding. Some people use the word primary as shorthand, but it needn't indicate that their feelings are greater for one person, just that their lives are more entangled.

But if you feel less involved in his life than you'd like (re meeting his family, taking trips), ask him to make plans for those activities. If he gives you lip service, and doesn't follow through, you could find out why he is doing that. You need a partner to be true to his word, to have actions match his words, to build and maintain trust. If he isn't willing or able to do that, well, I think you'll find the answer you seek. Then you must decide what to do. That is within your rights and power in the dyad.
You've just got to do it!
Precisely -- waiting does NOT make it "better," & mostly seems to make things worse because forever holding it back is nigh unto a lie.

Sure, it feels awkward, but that improves with practice.

If something bugs you, it ought to be okay to say, "this kinda bugs me" without fear. You could find out that you're wrong or incorrect or misinterpreting, but now you've got rid of that ghastly suspense (closely related to bad melodrama, a.k.a. "drama"). If anyone's feelings get bruised, that's easily remedied.

And directness doesn't mean confrontational.

Start with the main point: "Heya, dude, I joined this forum last week. You're -------, right?" (Not feigned innocence, but a rhetorical question.)

Then: "You said something that got me thinking. I'd really like to talk with you more about it."

So long as
(1) your bf trusts you & knows that this actually does bother you & that you'd like to put it to rest & aren't trying to manipulate him somehow, &
(2) you trust your bf to act in a rational manner & understand what you're trying to get across,
then it's best to broach it ASAP -- as in, have you told him yet??
Hi Cleo,

Perhaps you should plan a sit-down time with your boyfriend, when you are both calm and there are no distractions. Then I would "confess" about reading his posts on the hobby forum. Then tell him that one of his posts refers to Lin as his primary. Then ask him what that means.

Try to avoid any kind of accusing or blaming language. Even if he's been fibbing to you, it's probably because he was afraid to tell you the truth.

That's my initial take on it anyway.
Kevin T.
The thought that crosses my mind is, how old was that post? It might not even be accurate to his thinking now, could be something he wrote a year ago and made up his mind since. I think you should not be afraid to talk with him.
The thought that crosses my mind is, how old was that post? It might not even be accurate to his thinking now, could be something he wrote a year ago and made up his mind since. I think you should not be afraid to talk with him.

Well, she is afraid, or uncomfortable, nervous. That is her emotion. Better to say, "Be afraid, but do it anyway." That is true courage.
Thanks, all.

Well, yesterday I sent him a message saying that there was something I wanted to discuss and could we set a date? Of course he got real curious so after a bit of back and forth I decided to do it over messaging anyway, with the stipulation that we would both be very careful not to type when the other one was typing - something I HATE when having serious talks on chat.

So I told him and was as brief and matter of fact as possible, and said the statement had me confused, because he always stresses the equality, and could he qualify what he meant?

First he said that this was something we had discussed before, I could not remember this. It's possible we have though, I have a tendency to block out things I do not really want to hear, especially when my anxiety is super high. He then went on to say that yes, he considers her his primary partner, even though he is not her primary. I asked why he alway stresses the equality so much and he said that just because the relationships are different, he sees no reason to treat us differently.

I said that I sometimes don't know what my place in his life is and how he sees our future. He then gave me a bulletlist of things he loves doing with me and wants to continue doing, ending with 'I want to make it to the 2-year mark and then go for year # 3.'

He was completely honest and while I experienced sadness, there was also a sense of relief - because some things now made more sense to me, and actually feel more 'fair' now that I know how he feels. Next time I will not be disappointed that he never asks me to pick him up from the airport when he comes home from a trip, but accept that that is want he want her to do, and that he will be very happy to see me soon after.

We also talked a bit about how the relationship is growing and can grow, and he said his relationship with Lin did not grow to where it is now overnight, and that we have plenty of time to evolve and grow as a couple.

So all in all I would say it went well. Then in the night I woke with such a feeling of overwhelming sadness that then turned into anger, about my past that has made me so insecure. Eight years of people telling you, on a daily basis, that you are stupid and ugly and ridiculous, is a very hard thing to process. I haven't finished processing, obviously. So when someone tells me in the present that they love me but there is someone else who is more important to them, what i hear is 'you are not important to me, at all'.

However, using some breathing and meditation techniques I was able to calm myself down and reassure myself that yes, this is me, but I have made it this far which is a small miracle, I am actively living a poly life with very little jealousy and a lot of love and yes, lots of anxiety, but I would have that anyway even without the poly life. And I also managed to think of Bo and be happy for him that as a solo poly, he has someone like Lin who means that much to him and meets his needs - and then has me, as well.

I spoke to Ren about the whole thing today and he was so supportive and understanding. He also said that he thinks I handled the whole situation quite well.

Still sad, but I will be ok.
Glad you discussed. Hopefully you can talk more in person next time you meet.

He said what he wants from you, but I am not hearing where you told him what you want from him, as you mentioned in your OP. Meeting his family, trips, etc.
he told me he definitely wants me to meet his parents, and that he wants to continue taking trips with me.
(We already go on lots of short trips together. The trip I mentioned in the OP is a big one, where she is traveling to his home country with him to meet his extended family. It is not likely that I will be doing that anytime soon).
I have told him that I want to be more involved in his life and want to see him more often, if schedules permit. We didn't talk much about that, but I will be sure to bring that up when I see him this week.
Hi Cleo,

Well done for bringing this up with him.

Can I ask you, how can these two fit together? Because to me, it is unclear. But I am still learning about poly and what primary / secondary means.

How can he say this:

he considers her his primary partner

and yet stress that the relationships have equality?

he alway stresses the equality so much

and then justify it with this?

and he said that just because the relationships are different, he sees no reason to treat us differently.

Now, I'm asking partly to join in the discussion and partly because I'm still figuring out what all these definitions means.

I thought that 'primary partner' meant someone who EITHER was more 'entangled' with your life (i.e. you might have kids, finances with them but not with others) OR whom you placed a higher value on your relationship with, OR both.

Now, what it sounds like your boyfriend has said to you is this:

"I see my relationships as equal" (that sounds very clearly like "I don't consider anyone primary").

"I consider her primary" (Which sounds like, "actually, I don't consider my relationships as equal")

"When I said the relationships were equal, I meant they were DIFFERENT to each other" (Which is essentially true for any relationship and has no bearing on equality at all).

If this is true, I feel your boyfriend has been very misleading to you, and you have every right to feel angry. Isn't part of poly that you enter and be in relationships with full disclosure and consent? If he didn't fully disclose "I see her as primary", then you weren't making an informed consent to be in this relationship as his "secondary". I would be angry too, if that choice had been taken away from me.

However, on reading your post, it sounds like possible miscommunication or unclear communication has been a big part of the problem here. For instance, when he said the relationships were equal, you could have asked him

"What does that mean?"

I've been caught in bad communications before and now, when someone makes a sweeping, general statement, I ask them to clarify, clarify, clarify. However, if you were really anxious and have been asking him to say that you're equal to reassure you, rather than in a clear 'let's sit down and make sure we're on the same page here about what this is', then I can see why he might have just been stressing equality to soothe your emotions and anxiety, without realising what you could be interpreting and extrapolating from that.

For me, I believe these are the sorts of questions I would want to have answered in your situation, before I could continue with the relationship. Maybe some of them will help? Would you feel better if you had clear answers to these from him?

-What do you mean when you say she is your primary? If he is vague, I'd ask directly, things that the primary distinction can mean, such as - Do you want to live with her? Marry her? Do you love her more? Do you want to spend more of your time with her than me? Do you always give her preference for social events, such as spending Christmas or holidays with you? Would she / does she have a veto power?

-WHY is she your primary?

-Do you and she have any agreements that she will be your only primary, or could this change in future for me to also be that, and how would that look and progress?

-I am not comfortable being a secondary indefinitely / at all, how can we change this?


-I am comfortable being a secondary, but within THESE agreements: (what do you need to be happy and fulfilled in this relationship?)

-Can you see that it has been misleading for you to say the relationships are equal when they are clearly not? How can we communicate more clearly in future? (MAYBE, SUGGESTION: no more important conversations over text, no more conversations when you're very anxious otherwise you will be blocking out what he tells you).

Personally, I would not be OK being a 'secondary' to someone, unless I had not been with them long, and just by virtue of them having been with other partners longer, they had more intertwined lives with those people and deeper emotional connections. But if I was in a situation where that was never going to change and evolve -if there was a 'glass ceiling' in the mind of my lover that I couldn't go past - then I wouldn't bother sticking around.